Ahh, springtime. Your daughter is growing up, climbing in height, softening around the edges and quickly discarding the child and baby you once knew. She is becoming a woman, and there's nothing you can do about it. She can't be your little girl forever. As a father, it is understandably difficult, if not downright impossible, to understand what she's going through. Let's face it -- we're men. Puberty for us meant a deeper voice, a growth spurt and some hair. All pluses. Girls started to look a little cuter to us during puberty, as well. Another plus. For girls, though, puberty is a universally different milestone. Society has placed the impetus on women to be beautiful -- not men -- and it is ironically during this time in their lives that girls begin to understand this more and more. As puberty progresses, young girls grow into the women they will become, and they learn to reconcile their body image with our cultural expectations of the "perfect woman." It is a tremendously fragile and self-conscious journey, and men are not equipped to understand or deal with it. Your daughter will probably start to show signs of puberty at around 10 years old, although it can happen anywhere between the ages of 8 and 12, generally. The beginning of female puberty is known as thelarche, and it is characterized by the development of breasts. Around 18 months later she will begin to grow underarm and pubic hair, and then in another six months or so she'll begin menarche -- her first period. Of course, as her father you won't know when she gets her first period unless she tells you. It's not necessarily apparent, although there may be some warning signs. All girls experience menstruation differently, and some girls take it harder than others. You daughter may experience flu-like symptoms, such as headache, backache, sore legs and nausea. The most common symptoms, of course, are cramping and discharge. This is not something your daughter will want to discuss with her dad. Likewise, it's probably a decent bet that you're not really all that interested in discussing it with her, either. In situations like these, it's best to call in the wife. As a father you can certainly take a role in her development, but only if you're asked to. Otherwise, you can really only be supportive of her -- by understanding that she's changing, and by being sensitive to her moods and her needs. It's a strange job, and you may find yourself in over your head, but it's the easiest way for all involved. For the single father, however, ducking out isn't always an option. With no wife to turn to, you may start to feel a little bit like a deer in the headlights. You haven't the slightest idea what you're going to do -- how can you even approach your daughter with something like this?
- Find a woman -- Your best bet, in all honesty, is to find a woman who can help. Your mother is an easy first choice, as are any female relatives. In the absence of family, choose a close female friend to help. Even an ex-girlfriend who you are on good terms with would work. You can learn as much as you want about menstruation and cramping and pubic hair growth, but none of that is going to help you when your daughter needs to apply her first Tampax. You need a woman.
- Brush up -- Where experience isn't possible, we can only rely on knowledge. That is to say, it's time for Menstruation 101. In all likelihood you won't even need this stuff, because your daughter will have already learned it in school or on the Internet. Even if you do need to tell her what it is, you'll probably be so nervous you can't finish. Still, it doesn't hurt to get to know your enemy. These two articles (here and here) will give you everything you need to know.
- Point her in the right direction -- If your daughter inexplicably doesn't know the first thing about menstruation, it's going to fall on you to teach her. Rather than put yourself through the embarrassment of discussing it with her, you can help her find some information. Web sites like DotGirlProducts.com and Tampax.com have lots of information on puberty and menstruation, and some even have testimonials from other girls about their first times.
- Don't make her feel weird -- Some websites discuss throwing menarche parties for your daughter's first period, with jewelry and dancing and female friends and other girl stuff. DO NOT DO THIS. This is the territory of the girl's mother or your chosen symbolic menstruation instructor -- not her father. In other departments, don't embarrass her in front of her friends, try to avoid making references to her being a child or otherwise underdeveloped, and don't make her feel ugly ... ever.
- Take her out sometime -- Sometimes it's best to just go out and have fun and not worry about it. Let her know that you want to take her out and do something with her, whatever she likes. Make a daddy-daughter date out of it, with dinner and a movie, if you like. Talk about innocuous things and just generally enjoy your daughter's presence. She'll enjoy it, as well, and she'll appreciate the gesture.